By Shen Wu Tan
The Chicago Transit Authority announced earlier this month its proposal for a 20-year plan to make its entire rail system 100 percent accessible. According to the CTA’s website, about 70 percent of its rail systems are accessible and have ADA-compliant elevators or ramps.
In collaboration with the City of Chicago, ADA, architects and members of the disability community, the CTA will establish a blueprint, cost estimate and schedule outline of the 2036 plan.
“This has been one of our goals for a long time,” said Jeffrey Tolman, CTA spokesperson, “but establishing this blueprint is demonstrating that commitment to accessibility and we think it’s going to be extremely positive once the system is fully accessible for people with disabilities.”
As part of the plan, older stations built before the passage of the 1990 American with Disabilities Act will undergo ADA modifications. Some modifications include installing elevators at the Wilson Red Line, Washington-Wabash Loop station, Quincy Loop station and Addison Blue Line station.
According to Tolman, the CTA has made significant strides in accessibility under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.
“When Mayor Emanuel took office, 94 of our rail systems were accessible out of our 143 stations, which is 66 percent. And at the end of his second term, 103 stations will be accessible with several others receiving accessibility improvements,” Tolman said.
Recent accessibility improvements include the complete order of 714 ADA-compliant 5,000-series rail cars. These rail cars include two wheelchair securement spaces and an active suspension system that better aligns the car floor to the height of station platforms. The CTA also opened three new accessible stations.
Although many improvements have been made, the CTA recognizes that the work isn’t done yet.
A couple community members with disabilities have spoken out about the public transportation accessibility issues they face.
Eric Lipp, executive director of the Open Doors Organization, suffered from a spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair. He said he had struggled with public transportation.
“Using a wheelchair, I found it really hard to get around Chicago because not all of the train stations are accessible,” Lipp said. “They [CTA] made the majority of what they called major stops on the train station accessible. But that wasn’t all of them.”
His traveling troubles led him to start the Open Doors Organization, which is a centralized dispatch for 163 accessible taxis around Chicago.
In addition to people with mobility issues, Karen Aguilar, the director of the Chicago Hearing Society, added that people who are blind and deaf are not always made aware of public transportation changes.
“For people who are deaf and hard of hearing, it would be announcements,” Aguilar said. “For example, if the public transportation is delayed, if there’s a break down, next stop and so forth, there should be captioning running across the screen letting people know of any types of changes or delays. We work with DeafBlind community as well. So any type of alerting device to let them know of changes or delays would be helpful, too.”
Bill Green, from the Blind Service Association, added that he cannot see the signs that indicate which trains are arriving when. He said he would like more audio announcements to alert him about train arrival times.
Although there is still progress to be made, Lipp said the initiative for the 20-year plan is a great way to bring awareness of accessibility issues.
“It’s good to see that it’s out there and people are talking about it. That’s how change happens.”
The CTA will open the plan up for public comment prior to the report’s finalization in 2017.